The long rumored and awaited All Winners season of RuPaul’s Drag Race is upon us. What started as a bit of fan fiction has become a reality. As the first episode title suggests, it is a season of legends. But what that means for this new format remains to be seen. The episode commences with stock footage of children playing and RuPaul ruminating that at this moment children around the world are discovering drag for the first time. A cut to RuPaul frolicking on a sound stage in black and white, suggests that those children are dreaming of becoming the next drag superstar. A grid of childhood pictures takes over the screen of the All Stars season 7 cast. In a normal season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, the appearance of childhood photos denotes teary speeches about overcoming adversity and promises that “it gets better.” But this time, RuPaul calls them “thirsty” bitches looking for another crown. This subversion of the childhood photo suggests a new tone of RuPaul’s Drag Race and All Stars. This is the race to be the “Queen of All Queens.”
Each queen reenters the workroom, some for the first time in years, with a new look, tagline, and video package featuring highlights from their winning seasons and subsequent adulations and accomplishments. Shea Couleé, winner of the fifth season of All Stars, enters in a graphic monochromatic jumpsuit complete with a pointed cropped jacket. She enters, pauses, and says “I didn’t know I needed an introduction,” which suggests that her reputation should precede her. Jaida Essence Hall, winner of season 12, follows in a red and white bedazzled motocross look and tentatively announces, “I’m back?” Her confusion, in contrast to Shea’s confidence, conveys the fact that Jaida is known as the pandemic queen being crowned in her living room via Zoom during lockdown. It must be a truly surreal experience for her to walk back into the competition. Season 11 winner Yvie Oddly, ever the contrarian, walks in backwards displaying the design on the back of her jacket before turning around and declaring that she is back to “even the odds,” in a troll-styled wig that must have been a continuity nightmare for the editors. Followed by Trinity the Tuck, the winner (well... one of the winners) of All Stars 4, proclaiming “Body, body, and more body. The holy Trinity has arrived,” referencing her third time entering the workroom. The look is pure Trinity: too much, tacky, and perfectly constructed. Next is fellow All Stars 4 winner Monét X Change, confirming the entrances must be coming in reverse chronological order. Clad in red buffalo check and daisy dukes, she declares “Monét changes everything,” as she fires off two money guns spraying dollar bills around her. Of Monét’s three entrance looks, this one is the best. It’s polished, it’s her brand, and it’s impactful.
Following Monét is season 5 victor Jinx Monsoon, representing a strange seven season gap of potential competitors. She enters in a ruffled, flowy floral robe. She poses, pauses, and says, “Line?,” which hilariously underlines her position as one of the franchise’s greatest thespians. Winner of season 3, Raja Gemini, arrives in a bold, gold ruffled look featuring an eye shaped frame around her face asking, “Did somebody call for an Eye-con.” It’s unfortunate that in her video package the editors didn’t include her original entrance look that she is referencing. And finally, the only contestant out of order, The Vivienne, representing the United Kingdom, asks “Don’t you just love a long, hard, stiff ... competition?” She follows this with more sexual innuendo revolving around her “horny” wig. Her look is sleek, modern, and effortless.
As the queens converse, their individual storylines begin to emerge. Shea is the most recent winner. She’s incredibly polished and accomplished but still haunted by not winning her original season. Jaida, having won during the one of the peaks of the pandemic, was robbed of her reigning year. Unable to travel and enjoy the spoils of winning RuPaul’s Drag Race, a second chance is much deserved. Yvie, who only won one challenge in her original season, remains the chaotic rule breaker eager to challenge every challenge. Trinity and Monét, the only tied winners of Drag Race, have a camaraderie and rivalry, each is eager to prove their original win was as valid as any of the other winners. Jinx, a talented queen who struggled to present polished looks is back with years of refinement to show the judges. Raja, as a legendary, experienced queen is back a decade later ready to win over a new generation of Drag Race fans. Finally, The Vivienne is the outsider representing an entire nation and committed to showing that British drag is equal to American drag.
The development of these storylines is halted momentarily by a mysterious ninth contestant clad in black, white, and a hat obstructing their face. The fandom was momentarily captivated by who this person could be with some postulating Holland winner Envy Peru or non-winner but ever present Jujubee. She lifts her head revealing that it is Raven, the perpetual runner-up of season 2 and the very first All Stars. It may have made people wonder if the winner of season 2 might have been stripped of the title after a scandal involving the 2018 edition of DragCon. Perhaps the bigger question is if Raven is competing who will be doing RuPaul’s makeup? Despite having not won Drag Race, Raven decrees that she has always identified as a winner. The other contestants rationalize her presence when they point out that she is an Emmy winner for the show.
A rhyming message from RuPaul interrupts the conversation as the queens line up to start the race. They all erupt in cheers as RuPaul enters the room. He lets them know that no matter what happens this season they will always be winners. Baffled by Raven’s presence, RuPaul asks her to come over and they act out a little skit about abusive work environments as RuPaul explains that Raven cannot compete. Raja, anticipating where this is going, yells “hit her,” sort of spoiling the climax of the scene, but then makes it even funnier by adding “harder” after the initial slap. So, it is now revealed that Raven is, in fact, not competing in the season. While you have to respect the commitment to the joke for so long, it genuinely deceived the cast, it is definitely a moment that wecould have been removed from a somewhat overlong episode. It was one of a few enjoyable but unnecessary segments that could easily have been left on the cutting room floor or better served in a different episode.
With Raven gone, RuPaul gets into the specifics of this special season. After stressing that no one can take their past win away, RuPaul also reveals that this season will have no eliminations. It pulls back the curtain on some of the stipulations and concessions that must have went into getting an All Winners season off the ground. After all, no winner wants to risk being the first elimination and tarnishing their reputation. While the cast is predominately made up of more recent queens, who have signed a rumored comprehensive contract that obligates them to return to the show when dictated, the non-elimination format might have enticed earlier queens like Jinx and Raja to return. These is also a sense that this season could be a proof of concept to lure back past queens like Bianca Del Rio, Alaska Thunderfuck, Bob the Drag Queen, or Sasha Velour, amongst others who might not be under the more recent round of contracts. RuPaul further explains that each episode the queens will compete for a Legendary Legend Star, 10,000 dollars, and the ability to block a competitor from earning a star in the next episode. The top four with the most Legendary Legend Stars will compete in a lip sync smackdown for the crown. The grand prize is a new crown, the title of “Queen of All Queens,” and 200,000 dollars. With the stakes laid out, the competition commences.
As is the tradition with All Stars, the library opens early. Everyone gives mainly serviceable reads, but there was a trend in which the responses to the reads often illicit more laughter than the read itself. Shea’s reads felt more like set ups for Jinx and Raja to steal the spotlight. Jaida, who started hesitantly saying “Let’s see how this goes,” was actually reading on television for the first time as it is rumored that the reading challenge of Season 12 was so poor that it was cut out. Some of the more impactful reads came from efficient simplicity such as when Trinity just said “boot” to Raja or when Raja pointed to each individual contestant and spelled out B-O-O-G-E-R-S before strutting around the workroom. In the more elaborately constructed reads, Monét who started off with a rather weak read about Jaida winning on Zoom accelerated with a read bout Jinx’s teeth that harkened back to earlier reading challenges that were bizarrely focused on contestants’ dental work, or lack thereof. Two of the best reads came from misdirection at Monét’s expense. The first, with Jinx outraged at comparisons between Monét and Bob the Drag Queen that ended with Jinx artfully calling Monét untalented. Likewise, The Vivienne used the same misdirection to lampoon Monet’s singing ability. Everyone held their own, but as is woften the case in RuPaul’s Drag Race the edit reveals the winner before RuPaul. As the screen time suggests, with multiple reads making the final cut, Jinx is declared the winner and gets a 2,500 dollar prize.
Between the mini and maxi challenges, RuPaul says she has one more legendary queen for them to meet. This precedes another enjoyable but excisable segment from this bloated episode. This potential twist already feels redundant following Raven’s appearance as the non-ninth contestant of the season. While waiting for the reveal on the runway, Shea is the first to realize what is happening before the other’s join in joyous applause. The legendary queen is Naomi Campbell. After she and RuPaul trade adulations and Naomi recalls walking to Supermodel as RuPaul watched at a Versace show, Naomi critiques each of the queen’s runway walks. Naomi, who is very serious for a drag competition show, gives astute and sound advice to each contestant. It just feels like this segment could be better incorporated into a modeling themed challenge of some sort. With so much going on in a first episode this feels like a strange detour. It feels like the second mini challenge of the episode. That said, it is great to see Shea get to interact with one of her greatest inspirations (she even played Naomi in her first Snatch Game), and the genuine emotion and respect she has is moving. One other issue is that it kind of broadcast that this is Shea’s episode before we even get to the challenge.
Back in the workroom, the queens prepare for the maxi challenge. They must write a verse and prepare choreography set to RuPaul’s new song “Legends.” As they prepare, Shea is rightfully confident. She’s done this kind of challenge twice and won both times. While working on her verse, Jaida discusses how the non-elimination format frees them up to make riskier choices. In contrast to that sense of freedom, The Vivienne appears more focused on the weight of representing her homeland. It’s interesting to see The Vivienne as an outsider and not as confident as she was in her original season.
On stage, the eight winners begin to rehearse. They quickly discover that they have too many good ideas and need someone to take control to edit. It’s interesting that they realize the importance of editing in contrast to the lack of editing in this episode. They decide that Shea, who has the most experience with choreography, should take the reins. In what might be the best advice concerning choreography that future contestants should note, Shea says it’s about “building a picture.” Once Shea takes over, everything falls into place. Jaida remarks that it’s the smoothest rehearsal she’s ever witnessed. While good for them, it suggests a potential problem with an All Winners season. Will the show work if everyone is good at everything? Isn’t the sense of struggle and overcoming obstacles an important part of Drag Race? With no threat of elimination, is there no drama? Can this work for a reality competition format?
The one remaining source of drama remains strategy. The queens discuss the power and peril of blocking fellow contestants. In past iterations, if you won the lip sync for your life or voted someone off in All Stars, it was most likely that you wouldn’t have to see them afterward. In this competition, you will have to see the person you block and potentially suffer their retaliation. With this new kind of strategy, Monét and Trinity quickly form an alliance. These two seem the most aware that they are on a reality television program and are good at stirring up drama and adding the competitive edge. Perhaps one of the most mellow contestants, Raja, meanwhile, soaks up the praise and admiration of her fellow contestants for her legendary career. This seems to spark something in Jaida as well. It appears that she may be suffering from imposter syndrome brought on by her pandemic win. She won her season, but did not get the standard rewards of a reigning year, such as touring the world. As a result, she is incredibly emotional and grateful to get to compete with these other queens. Being included in an All Winners season gives her a sense of accomplishment and validation. The tears are tempered with humor when Shea remarks that it’s good Jaida has teared up before finalizing her makeup, Raja offers to make out, and a competitive Monét says that she’s still going to block her.
RuPaul stomps on the main stage with huge crimped blonde hair and an eclectic jumpsuit made of bright contrasting fabrics. Eagle eyes might even spot some recycled panels from past outfits. Perhaps this thrifty touch was an effort to offset some of the fracking. On the judging panel, Michelle and Carson are joined by Cameron Diaz. It’s almost disappointing to see how terrific and happy Diaz looks, as it suggests she won’t be coming out of retirement any time soon. It’s a shame because she’s fully convincing when she says she’s a huge fan of RuPaul’s music. This launches another segment that could have easily been cut from the somewhat overstuffed episode. RuPaul performs to one of her new songs. It’s perfectly adequate, but unnecessary. It’s interesting to watch after numerous contestants were critiqued last season for their faces not connecting with their bodies during musical performances. It also feels like production could have provided better lighting and sound mixing for the performance. Furthermore, it feels redundant as, after this performance to a new RuPaul track, we get another performance to a new RuPaul track. This is the most “available on iTunes” episode in a long time.
With eight verses inserted into a RuPaul song, this may be the longest recording she has ever made. Everyone does very well in the challenge, both with their individual verses and Shea’s choreography. Raja, in a colorful, borderline psychedelic jumpsuit, gives a tightly thematic verse focused on enlightenment and ethereality. It plays well with her goddess brand. Likewise, Jinx’s verse perfectly coincides with her slutty MILF persona. Fluctuating between funny and fierce in her green leotard and questionable shoes, it was an interesting performance style from Jinx that showed her versatility as a performer. Monét reasserted herself as a great lyricist, as seen in past seasons, by rapping and singing her verse. She managed to reference her past record on Drag Race as a Miss Congeniality and All Stars winner looking for her “triple crown.” Trinity gave an energetic, if forgetful, performance. Forgetful, in that it seemed like she didn’t remember the lyrics that she wrote, which felt fairly generic. Despite that, she had a great time on stage and her look in a sea of jumpsuits stood out in a good way. Yvie’s verse underscored her storyline as the alt-queen winning her own way and you can instantly see “Queen of the Queerdos” on merch. The Vivienne looked great in the most embellished of the jumpsuits, a gorgeous face, and terrific voice. The one failing was that her lyrics didn’t go beyond that she is from the United Kingdom and she wants to win the crown. Jaida, who seems to be the least musically inclined, covered that with a great comedic performance that demonstrated great control of her voice. Mocking her singing ability at the end with a distortion was an excellent, self-deprecating, and hilarious idea. Shea’s performance was polished and professional. The only hesitation would be that it didn’t feel like it said much about Shea herself. Well-constructed and performed with the confidence only a Coulee could possess, I just can’t really recall any of the lyrics. Something felt off about her jumpsuit as well. It may just be that the studio lights betray a lot of nude illusion, which didn’t help the overall look. Everyone did great, but the only issue was that it’s just so much content in an already content heavy episode. It is easy to see why this type of challenge is usually saved for the latter half of a season after there have been substantial eliminations. It was a lot to take in all at once and hard to remember what everyone had done.
Just when you think it is time for the critiques, they start the “I’m Crowning” runway category. Raja, which translates to King, channeled Louis the XIV in a spectacular look that started with the shoes and referenced her iconic Marie Antoinette look from her original season. It solidified and reconfirmed her as the original “look” queen and the rightful host of Fashion Photo Ruview. Definitely not a “look” queen in her original season, Jinx demonstrated her growth in a red and gold Elizabethan-inspired take on royalty with the added sexuality of a modern slit. Monét, who manages to improve her looks every season, crafted a look that married the throne and the street. Incorporating poof sleeves and caged hips with a tracksuit complete with heeled timberlands was genius. Fusing a jeweled crown with a braided crown of hair was exquisite. It recalled the same kind of aesthetic that made season 13 winner Symone’s runways so impressive and provocative. Trinity, continuing the theme of too much, came out in one of the franchise’s largest gowns. This is a FIRST look? The regal combination of purples, lush fabrics, beading, and dramatic shape almost make you forget that she can’t exactly move in it. The only real criticism is that it reads more jeweled head piece than crown. Yvie put her own stamp on the category while paying homage to RuPaul. Playing on the similar sound of crayons and crowns, Yvie’s look was as chaotic as promised. At the same time, you can see the precision and careful thought that went into the construction. In particular, the nude crayon coloring around the corset was a wonderful touch. The Vivienne, citing Iris Van Herpen, who has to be one of the most referenced designers in recent Drag Race memory, actually delivers on the reference. From the shoes to the crown, it is a complete and compelling look. It’s a rare feat to convey the texture of a look on television. Jaida, who is known for polished looks on the runway, continued her excellence with a caged corset supporting abstract purple floral ruffles. It was the dreadlocked beehive with the comically small crown that completed the look. After tackling her imposter syndrome, her use of a small crown conveyed a confidence and made it like the other queens with larger crowns were compensating for something. Finally, Shea, who once described her drag as a love letter to Black women, celebrated African queens, like Nefertiti, with a gorgeous braided crown, that recalled her season 9 promo look, and Valentino couture gown.
The critiques were overwhelmingly positive. They all did a tremendous job, but at the same time you have to wonder if this All Winners format is going to just be the judges gushing over the contestants. Constructive criticism should be the goal of a competition program like RuPaul’s Drag Race. Perhaps, it’s just for the premiere. The only issues the judges took umbrage with were Yvie’s performance wig and that Trinity didn’t seem to know her lyrics. They were even about to give a pass to Trinity, until Michelle spoke up. Thank goodness for Michelle sometimes. They really only discussed four contestants at length, Yvie and Trinity, and eventual top two Shea and Monét. Again, the complaint that the episode is overlong and overstuffed is more about how it would be more beneficial to see the queens at work on their verses or actually having their performances remarked upon in detail.
The queens return to the stage. The funniest thing is how many of them have changed out of their outfits. Only The Vivienne and Jaida kept on their runway looks. They deserve extra points for that, unless they just didn’t’ think they would be lip syncing. Shea and Monét are declared the top two All Stars. They each win a Legendary Legend Star, inching closer to the final four. However, the 10,000-dollar prize and right to block a fellow contestant remain for the winner of the lip sync. The song is one of those wonderfully offbeat choices, Ella Fitzgerald’s rendition of “Old Macdonald.” It recalled the Judy Garland lip sync between Monet and Naomi Smalls in All Stars 4, and the producers should remember how great the results are for these old numbers. It’s really a toss-up between Shea and Monét, with each delivering a fully committed and highly comedic interpretation of the number. Ultimately, Shea edges Monét for the win. It feels fair considering Shea’s contributions to the choreography of the challenge.
As the official winner, Shea gets to block a contestant by giving them the Platinum Plunger, which feels like this season’s antithesis to the golden chocolate bar. In what feels like a never-ending episode, Shea stalks the runway eyeing each contestant and giving them the opportunity for comedic interjections. She eventually lands on blocking her season 9 sister Trinity, who laments, “Well, shit,” while holding the plunger. And with that the premiere episode ends of All Stars 7 – the All Winners season. Was it good? Yes. But, maybe it was too much good? Hopefully, future episodes will be more focused and tightly edited. Also, can a competition show function without elimination? Will the judges have constructive criticism? Will contestants falter and show perseverance? It remains to be seen with this new format going forward.
- Trend Alert: Dramatic shoulders - Shea and Jaida
- Trend Alert: Purple and Yellow - Yvie and Trinity
- Did anyone else notice that one of Monét’s money guns didn’t work? Flashbacks to Alyssa Hunter last season. Although Monét played it off well.
- Best Laugh: Yvie or Jinx?
- It felt like Raven’s entrance kind of stole the thunder from The Vivienne being an international competitor. I know that Bebe Zahara Benet, Courtney Act, Brooke Lynn Heights, and Nicky Doll have been on before, but this feels like it’s supposed to be different. Maybe it’s not a big deal to have international competition after UK vs. The World though.
- I wonder what intern was in charge of getting The Vivienne’s work visa.
- I’m surprised they are still doing fake slaps after Asia O’Hara’s Drag Race.
- I feel like Naomi Smalls should have been invited to meet Naomi Campbell too. They did it for Farah Moan when Christina Aguilera was there.
- Do you think Shea’s runway look was referencing this Valentino scandal from 2016?